From the art of Medieval times to the Renaissance and from conventional to contemporary botanical topographies continue to remain an integral part of a rich visual symbolism.
The exhibition Botany of Desire[i], curated by Roohi Ahmed at KOEL Art Gallery, precisely ascertains the symbiotic relationship between the artist and the representation.
A group of nineteen eminent artists come together to showcase their work, during the inaugural month of Koel’s new gallery space, generating an atmosphere bursting with creativity and distinct storytelling. The intrinsic nature of the art exhibition becomes the cosmoses of experience. Emotive allegories are deeply woven into the fabric of the exhibition chronicling history, commemoration, death, extinction, heroism and time through one common symbol- the plant.
Amin Gulgee’s quadriptych installation Char Bagh V and Durriya Kazi’s sepia print Bonds, Knots and Roots resonate a modern sensibility over the cultural heritage and design significance of landscapes. Their art mirrors a cubist and expressionistic quality which is minimalist and abstract. The opus evolves into a cross-section of the artists’ efforts of resisting direct interpretation by synthesizing a landscape transitioning from garden design to urban design with the underlying intent of creating a symbolic narrative of life and rebirth.
Danish Ahmed’s calculatingly untitled paintings reflect upon the ever growing appropriation of the material world. His compositions recount the Marxist discernment of man being negligent towards the ultimate recognition of the ‘larger order’ to overpower nature in order to liberally enterprise and design. Naima Dadabhoy’s series “Mapping the Mismanagement” and Shazia Qureshi’s Illusion of Permanence transact with the abstractions of life and the certainty of death and decay. Consequentially, through their art, all three artists’ vociferously speak of the intrinsic immersion of the organic into decomposition and extinction respectively.
Sumaira Tazeen’s paintings Healing or Surviving III and IV and Alia Bilgrami’s Tulip Mermaids are insightful narratives on the long drawn silent scream of displacement – a derivative of migration to diasporal landscapes. Whilst viewing these paintings I couldn’t help but metaphorically reminisce on Alfred W. Crosby’s [ii] trailblazing work on the colossal globalized transferal of biota with Columbus’ landing in 1492. The magnitude of the ramifications these anthropogenic activities of ecological transference must have had on the flora. Perhaps Tazeen’s epicene Sunflower and Bilgrami’s Tulip are metaphorically representing the artists’ narratives while ingeniously unfolding their own ‘bio’graphies too.
Meher Afroz’s Reminiscences of a Dream I and II, Yasmeen Salman’s Faiz aur Manaal and Shahana Munawar’s archetype Its not Fetish contemporize a personal and spiritual journey. The transcendent drift is also echoed in Noorjehan Bilgrami’s extemporaneous paintings and Manisha Gera Baswani’s miniatures. The strand continues with Usman Saeed’s mystical piece Gardenfinds 4 which explores an innate and spiritual connotation of musicality present between humankind and nature. Abdullah M Syed’s Currency of Love-IV pays tribute to his mother employing the centuries old Japanese method of Kintsugi[iii] to define the beauty of continuity despite all odds.
Aliya Yousuf’s Sentient Beings is a voluble installation which has a spectacular impact of sublime and symphonic energy despite the tension created by the artist through contrasts and ambiguities.
Mona Naqsh’s exquisite Sermon I and Sermon II erase the line between reality and art and develops a way of including a storyline, charisma and emotion to her paintings. Farah Mahbub’s photographic editions Zahir-o-Batin and Asma Ahsan Khan’s microscopic “thought forms” Inner Tree Compass and Inside the Seed obligate sufi nuances expressing actuality of mind and spirit and complex emotions within perceptively crafted compositions.
Muhammad Ali’s discreet yet forcefully stimulating performance exemplified a powerful elucidation and a wider acknowledgement of an apocalyptic and dystopian future. The performance is a despairing call for attention to the susceptibility of the planet and of humanity at large. There were a set of inescapable contrivances present in the exhibition which piercingly pointed to the detrimental global impact of urbanization affecting biodiversity urgently calling for timely action to be taken by mankind.
In her art statement Yasmeen Salman customizes Martha Sonntag Bradley’s[iv] poetic musing “Mirror to mirror through myself I see you, You see me” which I now enthuse upon, perhaps in a slightly different context than theirs. How? Carefully viewing the reciprocal relationship between man and plant I could not help but reflect upon the modern urban development which provides a tremendous opportunity for scrutinizing the interaction among socio-ecological associations. Immediately coming to mind is the botanist Edgar Anderson[v] concept of transported landscapes epitomizing human colonization of the natural ecological system. Unconsciously or, at times, deliberately “man carries whole floras along the globe with him” thus he is being surrounded by “transported landscapes”. Correspondingly the biota once again rose to the occasion to accept the challenge of being ‘transported’ to the gallery space to create a metaphoric discourse through the artists’ intensely personal and seemingly obscure and equivocal references.
[i] The title is partially borrowed from Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.
[ii] Alfred W. Crosby Jr. is a Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1972, Alfred W. Crosby wrote a book called The Columbian Exchange– in it, the historian tells the story of Columbus’s landing in 1492 and the ecological ramifications it had on the New World. He is also the author of Ecological Imperialism.
[iii] Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original.
[iv] Martha Sonntag Bradley-Evans is an American academic who is a professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Utah. She was the president of the Mormon History Association.
[v] Edgar Shannon Anderson was an American botanist. His 1949 book Introgressive Hybridization was an original and important contribution to botanical genetics.